Adversity Builds Character

Howdy, folks. Today we’ve got a guest post. Alex Laybourne approached me a few weeks ago about hosting an interview he did with Tom Ufert. After Alex explained a little about the obstacles Mr. Ufert has overcome, I was glad to welcome him to my blog. I hope you enjoy reading this interview. Please check out Tom’s book, Adversity Builds Character.

This post is a little longer than my usual, so I’m going to let Tom take it away right here and now.

Tom Ufert

Author Photo

Tom Ufert, a 46-year-old quadriplegic afflicted with three different disabilities, is an inspirational voice in our troubled times. He received his bachelor of arts in political science and history as a scholarship recipient from Centenary College of Louisiana. Tom is a former Rotary International graduate Fellow who attended Australian National University in Canberra, ACT, specializing in East Asian political affairs and was a White House Fellow nominee. He is a former Lyndon Baines Johnson Congressional Intern and constituency aid for two former United States members of Congress. His past services for 11 political campaigns on both sides of the aisle were highly valued by former Louisiana Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer, Henson Moore the former assistant chief of staff to U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the present U.S. Trade Ambassador, Ron Kirk.

At age 23 he was the youngest artistic Board Chairman in the United States as head of the Shreveport Summer Music Festival. Mr. Ufert has served as a member of two other 501(c) three charity boards including his beloved fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as the community advisory board for his former rehabilitation hospital. Over the years he has acquired extensive customer service experience in the food and beverage, hotel, insurance, home security, and pharmaceutical industries. Mr. Ufert has served as a member of two other 501(c) three charity boards including his beloved fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as the community advisory board for his former rehabilitation hospital. His professional memberships include Phi Alpha Theta, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Worldwide Who’s Who. In recent years he has worked tirelessly as a volunteer fundraiser for numerous AIDS charities in his community and served briefly as the community affairs liaison for Legacy Founders Cottage. Tom Ufert, a native of Louisiana, now resides in Texas.

The Interview

Adversity Builds Character is dedicated to your Grandmother. Is it possible to put into words the impact she had on your life?

I can say without any doubt or reservation that NO OTHER HUMAN BEING had more impact on my life!  I say that because no one else was there for me from my beginning to their end until she died nearly five years ago.  Yes, my parents brought me into this world, but life got in their way and unfortunately each had less influence than Grandma Campbell.  Daddy left because of divorce.  Mom because of the caustic debilitating effects of MS on her life couldn’t adequately continue to take care of me like a mother should.  By cause and effect, my biological family’s ability to have a positive influence on my life was dramatically dwindled by her disease.  In LEAPED Joy Campbell, my godmother!  Without her love and dedicated interest in my welfare, the guardianship of my upbringing would never have been agreed to by Mom or accepted by her son and daughter-in-law.  The rest, as they say, is history THANKS WHOLLY TO JOY CAMPBELL!

You woke up from a car crash to be told you had suffered extensive injuries, and then to be told you had tested positive for HIV. Can you recall the moment you got the news? What went through your mind in that instant?

Yes, I write about both incidents in my book, Adversity Builds Character.  The first was waking up in the ICU flat on my back with20 pound tongs dangling from my neck/skull to keep my neck in place.  That was when my partner told me of my condition.  Initial shock, disbelief, and denial kept me from accepting my fate.  It wasn’t really until they transferred me to the critical care ward that reality slapped me in the face.  At that moment, after the doctors and my partner informed me of a recuperation period involving several months of physical rehab that I knew what was required from me—namely, determination and a strident will to adapt to my uncertain future.  LOVE AND SUPPORT CARRIED THE DAY because my partner “Braden” vowed to stand by me despite evidence that my unfaithfulness had been the source of my injuries.  HE WAS A FAR BETTER MAN THAN I DESERVED!  The second occasion was some 5-6 weeks later when a diagnosis of HIV was confirmed.  THIS WAS A FAR DIFFERENT MATTER.  Back in 1991, this was essentially a death sentence, and probably, due to my dishonest and unforgivable self-destructive behavior, ONE I DESERVED!  My immediate reaction was physical collapse and total DARK DEPRESSION.  This debilitating state of depression was shockingly all encompassing affecting my physical, emotional, and psychological states.  I refused to eat, interact or even speak beyond brief repugnant utterances of disgust and total despair.  I can only point to divine inspiration as the cause for my revival.  Deep soul searching, prayer, and self-reflection brought me face to face with one clear choice…gradual decline into death from self-pity or an unrelenting acceptance of the consequences brought about from MY OWN DECISIONS and thereby, A DEEPLY CHARGED WILL TO LIVE AND REPENT THROUGH MY LIFE’S DEEDS TO MAKE AMENDS FOR MY MISTAKES.

Your character and the way you approach life is awe inspiring, and your faith plays a big role in that. Have there ever been moments where you questioned your faith?

I think like most of us, I’ve questioned “Why did God do this to me?”  So often, we immediately thrust the cloak of blame elsewhere rather than accepting personal responsibility for our own actions.  Far more times than most we tend to blame God, an unseen force of doom & destruction in our lives.  Yet, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote (of course I paraphrase), “When a man stares into the abyss and sees only his own reflection staring back, that is when he sees into his very soul.”  Only when we look in the mirror do we come to terms with what we have done to ourselves and others.  That is when we find our faith, or perhaps the lack thereof.  I know mine was reaffirmed because I had strayed away from it and God Himself, not vice versa.

You had fallen into a rather destructive cycle before your accident; do you think it would have continued had things not happened as they did?

There is no doubt I would be dead!  But God had other plans for me!  For many years I was convinced that my fate was to become a national political figure…at least THOSE were MY delusions of glory!  Perhaps that would have happened if I had not wandered down a self-destructive trail of addictions.  I believe God corrected my course and forced me to change or die and therein ruin everything I and so many others had worked very hard to accomplish.  If September 28th, 1992, not happened, my self-destructive behavior of alcohol/drug/sex addiction would most definitely have continued resulting in my demise and perhaps that of some other unwitting-souls.  In fact, as my sequel, Crossroads to Character – The Journey Continues will try to demonstrate  that is exactly what was happening.  Had it not been for being re-invented or redirected by finding true love and channeling my energies into community charity work, I am sure my book would have never been completed and I would not be sitting here now.

Looking back, is there one person who stands out throughout the years as being the person you wish you could talk to in private just one time. To apologize to, to laugh with… for any reason.

Yes, there are 3 people I wish that I  could say I’m sorry to, cry with, and laugh about how things might have been different had I not been so wrong.  My sister and the two lovers I was unfaithful to.  All three deserved better than I gave in return and I’ve not spoken with any of them in many years.  My book attempts to make amends by telling a truthful reality of how I allowed life’s circumstances to distract me from their love.  None of them deserved the “crap” I dished out in their direction.  However, I also believe that each of those experiences were life lessons I needed to become a better man.  I just regret that each of these loving individuals were victims of my disdain and infidelity.  Perhaps if they ever read ABC they will have mercy and see in their hearts to forgive me.  Nonetheless, I could not fault any one of them if they chose never to speak with me again.  I certainly don’t know that I deserve that much forgiveness.

You wrote a lot of the book using text to speech software. Just how did that change the writing process for you?

The difference is nothing less than miraculous!  Had my life partner not purchased the Dragon voice activated software, I’m not sure ABC would have ever been finished.  For those that don’t know, due to the incomplete spinal fracture I sustained from my car accident on 9/28/1992, my loss of fine motor skills caused the loss of finger dexterity in five of ten fingers.  Therefore, use of “typing sticks” was a necessity.  This physical impediment certainly slowed down my typing and in turn my writing.  Within six months of obtaining the Dragon program, ABC was finished; I had written more in 6 months than I had in 6 years!

I always find there is a lot of ‘magic’ that happens during the transfer of brain to fingers, but with voice recognition, I guess you need to be more sure of yourself with every sentence, right?

With voice recognition software you have to re-orient speaking and thought patterns.  For example, you must speak every word clearly/precisely, say out loud every punctuation, and grammar idiosyncrasy.   It’s not difficult, just another example of adjusting your set lifestyle patterns to accommodate the practical realities of being physically challenged.  “ADAPT AND CHANGE OR WITHER AND DIE!”

Besides Adversity, and your follow up ABC  (Australia Beyond Canberra) you are working on a third publication that moves away from the personal and more into society and cultural. Where did this idea come to you?

Boy, this book is going to be a real trip “down the rabbit hole” for me.  What I mean is simply that it will be outside my comfort zone…A REAL ADVENTURE!  The real idea and credit must be given to my good friend and neighbor, Robby Kaler.   Robby is a smart 14 year old teenager that is as close to a little brother as I’ve ever known.  Fiercely protective and supportive of me in every way, Robby is “anatomically attached” to his cell phone as most teenagers are these days!  Anyway he was texting one day while simultaneously having a conversation with me.  I’m sure there are a great many parents who are in touch with how frustrating this experience can be.  Then the idea hit me…the title to my book.  Well, to protect my idea, all I’ll say is that the techno-oriented generation of today’s contemporary society, will totally GET IT!  It may even help bridge the ever expanding generation gap between those that are addicted to their cell phones and those of us that still remember what a rotary phone is!

It should be said that ABC is also under construction. Do you have a release date in mind for it?

Well, let me clarify a possible misunderstanding.  Many times I’ve referred to Adversity Builds Character as “ABC”…that was its original title.  My third planned book, ABC- Australia Beyond Canberra is also being referred to as “ABC”.  As of yet, no, a release date hasn’t been scheduled. I’ve got to start writing it first, after I finish my soon to released quote book and my sequel.  Besides, some initial details have to be worked out with my potential collaborators.  See, my plan is to have several sections included from friends/former classmates at Australian National University as sort of a firsthand travelogue from my “Mates” Down Under.  Who better to describe Australian localities than native Aussies?

Can you share any extracts with us, or give us a small hint as to what the book discusses?

Well, no not really.  All I can say is that it will be a unique Aussie/Yank collaboration of why a trip Down Under definitely needs to be on everyone’s “bucket list”!

Writing a book about what is, in essence, global culture, how different are you finding the process compared to the personal pieces you have written until now?

That’s a real challenge.  I profess the age old adage, “Write what you know.”  Now though I’ve had peripheral studies in different cultures and philosophy, I have no claim to fame as even a somewhat expert in either field.  Yet, I think this adventure after dedicated research is combined with some reasonable common sense shall make for an interesting read.  It will be no cake walk and shall definitely prove challenging.

Clicky Stuff

Book cover

Thank you for joining us on this stage of the tour. We hope you enjoyed this interview and invite you to join us in at tomorrow’s stop over at the home of Catherine Green for a special guest post written by the Author.

You can connect with Tom on Facebook or grab your copy of Adversity Builds Character here.